TRACK AND FIELD / JOHN ORTEGA : In His Mind, Mullins, Moore Ran Dead Heat

Obea Moore has probably never heard of Billy Mullins.

Of course. The Pasadena Muir sophomore wasn't born when Mullins was a state champion sprinter at Hamilton High in 1976.

Yet after I watched Moore anchor Muir to a scintillating come-from-behind victory over Inglewood Morningside in the boys' 1,600-meter relay in the State championships at Cerritos College two weeks ago, the two were forever linked in my mind.

Until then, the most-exciting high school race I ever witnessed came in the 1976 City Section championships at East Los Angeles College where Mullins ran a 45.8-second anchor leg to help Hamilton (3 minutes 16.0 seconds) run down Banning (3:16.0) and hold off San Fernando (3:17.7), anchored by Charles White, in the mile relay.

But while Mullins' heroics occurred in front of 3,000 or 4,000 people--yes, the City finals used to draw decent-size crowds--Moore ripped off his 45.5 split before 11,362 rabid fans, many of whom had come specifically to see him run.

Both Mullins and Moore found themselves in similar circumstances as they started their anchor legs.

Mullins was 25-30 yards behind Leonard McDonald of Banning when he got the baton, and Moore trailed Morningside's Peter Suggs by 20-25 meters.

Both made up little if any ground during the first half of their legs before shifting gears with 200 meters left.

I remember vividly when Mullins took off because my three brothers and I were seated near the end of the backstretch and we could hear the cadence of his stride change on the dirt track. The fact that White was in the midst of a superb 46.7 leg, but losing ground, was another clue.

The crowd noise and the Tartan surface at Cerritos muffled any audible changes in Moore's stride pattern, but you could see him shift gears, first with 200 meters to go and again with about 75 meters left.

By that time, Moore had cut his deficit to 10 meters and the crowd, sensing something extraordinary was happening, was in a frenzy.

The decibel level reached a crescendo when Moore passed Suggs with 10 meters remaining to give Muir a 3:13.08 to 3:13.30 victory, just as it had when Mullins nipped McDonald at the line.

After the race, as I walked toward the athletes' exit from the track to interview Agoura's Amy Skieresz about her second-place finish in the girls' 3,200, something happened that gave me chills. The crowd began to chant, "Obea Moore. Obea Moore. Obea Moore."

Long-time Kennedy Coach Warren Farlow asked incredulously, "Did he catch him? When he came by here, I didn't think he had a chance. He was too far behind."

All I could say was, "That kid is awesome."

I had similar thoughts more than half my lifetime ago, only the kid I was talking about then was a year older than me.

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End of the line: The State championships marked the final high school meet of Kennedy Coach Pete Nelson's 32-year career.

Nelson, a co-coach at Kennedy along with Farlow since the school opened in 1971, said earlier this year that he might come back as an assistant next season, but he's ruled that out for the time being.

"I don't want to be locked into any schedule where I have to be out there at a certain time or on certain days," he said. "I want to spend my time doing other things."

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Rankings boost: Antonio Arce's 3,200-meter victory Saturday in the Golden West Invitational might have been enough to garner All-American honors for the Palmdale High senior when Track & Field News magazine announces its team later this year.

Although Arce's time of 9:04.13 was slower than the 9:03.19 he ran to finish second in last year's State championships, his victory at American River College in Sacramento came against a heavyweight field.

Not only did Arce out-kick Billy Harper (9:04.42) of Junction City, Ore., but he turned back fourth-place Matt Downin (9:16.80) of Pinkerton Academy in Derry, N.H., fifth-place Jeff McLarty (9:19.23) of Chino Hills Ayala and sixth- and seventh-place Skiy Detray (9:26.36) and Micah Davis (9:26.38) of Mead Senior High in Spokane, Wash.

Downin won the 1994 Foot Locker national cross-country championship in December, McLarty finished second in the California State championships, Detray ran 8:58.35 and Davis timed 8:58.34 earlier this year.

Arce won the Southern Section Division I title and has run under 9:10 four times this season.

The top three-ranked performers in each event are considered All-Americans.

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Support needed: The National Community College track and field championships is a good idea but more money will be needed for the meet to truly reflect its title.

The inaugural championships, which were held at Southern Illinois University in Edwardsville on Saturday, were a competitive disaster as fields ranged from three to eight athletes in each event.

The competition was supposed to match the top four American finishers from the National Junior College Athletic Assn. championships, the top three finishers from the California State championships and the top two finishers from the Oregon-Washington championships, but a lack of money to pay for travel expenses prevented many top athletes from competing.

Ventura's Josefina Sanchez won the women's 3,000 in 11:08.57. The time was 30 seconds slower than her sixth-place time in the State meet and yet she won by more than 31 seconds.

"We didn't have full fields and that was a problem," meet director Ron Buss said. "Next year, more people will know about the meet and hopefully we'll be able to generate more money for the athletes' travel expenses."

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